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Nocturnal soul

The genre-hopping R&B of Richie Dagger's Crime

Richie Dagger’s Crime are skilled practitioners of R&B and beyond. Photo credit: Facebook

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Certain musicians thrive on stepping out of their comfort zone, of embracing a genre that the audience might expect to be out of reach for that artist. Joe Jackson left behind the frenzied punk and New Wave of his earlier albums to explore ‘40s swing with Jumpin' Jive, before eventually landing on the somewhat cheesy, nocturnal elegance of Night and Day. Jackson essentially phased guitars out of his music, which would seem unthinkable to fans that remember pogoing to songs like "Got the Time" and "Sunday Papers." That recognizable sneer gave way to stylish crooning, and Jackson's transformation from punk kid to man about town was complete.

It's fitting that Seattle experimental R&B outfit Richie Dagger's Crime would cover "Steppin' Out," off of Night and Day; Jackson's vibe of bourgeois New York sophistication meshes well with Richie Dagger's Crime's adventures in cosmopolitan soul and slick electro-pop. Also like Jackson, Richie Dagger's Crime is a group that gains power through exploring and mixing genres that one might not initially think would pair well together. Though their baseline always hovers around indie R&B, elements of funk, psychedelia and ambient electronica work their way in around the edges, creating a more fulfilling product than one might expect upon seeing the tongue-in-cheek way in which Richie Dagger's Crime market themselves (the cover of their EP, Tenderness, is a blissfully hokey headshot of the lead singer).

Richie Dagger, much as I want it to be a real name, is unfortunately not; the band's name comes from the title of a song by punk legends the Germs - an odd thing, given the distance between R&B and punk. Rather, the band is nominally a project from Richie Nelson, born in Chicago but now making his home in Seattle. What started as a solo project has ballooned into a six-piece ensemble full of artists that is more adept at filling out a sound that really begs for lushness. As a vocalist, Nelson proves himself to be a chameleonic crooner, effortlessly evoking the aforementioned Jackson, but also navigating the twists and turns of style with ease. When he pulls all the way back, he can resemble the timid whisper of Perfume Genius, and when he lets himself go, as on their cover of Mother Love Bone's "Chloe Dancer," he can bring tears to the back of the room's eyes.

While a full-length of original music is supposedly forthcoming, Richie Dagger's Crime has only released one album of note - an EP that is largely made up of covers. In addition to covering Jackson and Mother Love Bone, Richie Dagger's Crime also tackles Gonjasufi and General Public, which must be one of the most befuddling array of artists to be covered in one album. There's a voracious love of music inherent in Nelson's output, which once again comes across as an indication of the musical wanderlust that can make some artists look great and other artists fickle.

In the acknowledgements for the EP, Nelson thanks Jamie xx, producer of quintessentially sparse and sexy indie electronica band The xx. While there doesn't seem to be any formal connection between Nelson and Jamie xx, there does exist a common interest in restraint. At their most flamboyant and lavish, there's still room to breathe, for sounds to expand, for the music to dig its fingernails into your shoulders and hold you still. When Nelson wants you to move, though, he and the rest of the band throw something like the catchy-as-hell "Just a Little Bit" at your feet and dare you to resist its charms.

Richie Dagger's Crime, w/ Ecstatic Union, Dunce, Restrospecter, 8:30 p.m., Friday, July 7, $5, The New Frontier Lounge, 301 E. 25th St., Tacoma, 253.572.4020, thenewfrontierlounge.com

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